Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tisha B'Av, Tragedy and Renewal

On Tuesday, the Jewish world will observe the saddest day in our calendar, Tisha B’Av.

This day commemorates the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second by the Romans in 70 C.E. According to tradition it also marks the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and from Spain in 1492. This day has therefore become the day on which we mark our many collective tragedies.

In 70 not only was the Temple destroyed but the city of Jerusalem also decimated. Most of its inhabitants were murdered or carted off to Rome as slaves. (For visitors to Italy one can see this depicted on the Arch of Titus.)

And yet out of this devastation grew rabbinic Judaism. The rabbis authored prayers whose words echoed longings for a different, and renewed, Jerusalem. “Blessed are You, Adonai, Guardian of Israel, whose shelter of peace is spread over us, over all Your people Israel, and over Jerusalem.” Even at weddings they counseled that we pause to remember this great tragedy and shatter a glass.

If not for this great calamity, the Judaism we know and love, the Jewish life of synagogue and home, would not exist.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg writes:
The Rabbis’ fundamental theological breakthrough was a ‘secularization’ insight. God was becoming less visible, more hidden. The Destruction was a signal that manifest divine activity was being curtailed. God would not stop the Romans or save the Temple (even though God had destroyed the Egyptians at the Red Sea). Still the covenant was not being disowned; it was being renewed…. The original covenant remained, but humans became more active and responsible. (The Jewish Way)
It is in our hands. The peace of Jerusalem is within our grasp. This is what we must continue to believe.

Out of every tragedy comes the sparks of something new and different.

In 1492 Queen Isabella ordered that the Jews be banished from Spain. The edict was signed on March 31, 1492. The Jews, who had enjoyed there a golden age, were given only four months to leave the country. And thus four months later on the ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av) all the Jews left Spain.

And the next day, Columbus set sail.

We know the rest of that story.

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